My Top 10 Biggest Mistakes in my 12 Years of Resistance Training & Nutrition
Written by: Dr. Nicholas J. Pannella, D.C.
First off, I want to thank Chris Barakat for giving me the opportunity to share my own personal experiences and knowledge through the School of Gainz platform.
For my first post, I wanted to share my personal experiences – triumphs, downfalls, and misplaced faith – and how I’ve practically applied them during my training career. I also want to talk about some misguidance I’ve noticed in others.
Before I continue, I wanted to state a few things about myself so readers have an idea on who I am and why I decided to become a chiropractor. Chiropractic still has a lot of big myths surrounding it, such as all you need to become a chiropractor is a weekend certification (it’s actually a doctorate degree), what the content of our training includes (it’s much more similar to medical school than most people realize), and what the chiropractic adjustment is and isn’t for.
I am not a chiropractor who thinks people need 2-3 visits a week for life, and I am certainly not a chiropractor who thinks the adjustment is the cure for everything. I’d like to consider myself an evidence-based chiropractor that understands the value of all forms of health care – but I’ll talk more about this in other posts. I have the utmost respect for anyone who holds higher education, whether it’s a Masters in Exercise Science, all the way to a PhD in Oncology research.
Higher education is tough, and putting that work in says something about your grit. That being said, if you don’t have a higher education, it doesn’t mean you should devalue yourself or your knowledge. Matt Ogus is someone, for example, who does not hold a formal degree, yet his knowledge of fitness has helped many. You don’t need a formal degree to know what you’re talking about, but it does help distinguish reliable sources from unreliable sources.
I will not be including direct empirical data in this list. I want this to be something you read and hopefully resonate with. This doesn’t mean I won’t mention research in my explanations. Here we go!
Here are my top 10 biggest mistakes I’ve made – and seen be made – in my 12 years of resistance training and nutrition:
1. Putting all my eggs in one basket.
I think this is something we can all relate to in some degree.
What do I mean by putting all your eggs in one basket regarding training? This means only following one type of training protocol, forever hoping for the most optimal results. Your training style should change throughout the course of your lifting career.
Whether it’s nutrition, training protocols, or life, I’d assume most of us have done this in one way or another. When it comes to exercise, I’ve seen this in others and have personally experienced this with my own training style. A lot of people tend to think in black and white, and that’s how life tends to go. It takes a lot of vulnerability and self-awareness to be open minded to ideas outside your belief system.
For example, let’s talk about rep ranges. Yes, the literature supports optimal muscular hypertrophy for most cases in the 8 to 15 rep ranges, but this doesn’t mean other ranges can’t contribute to hypertrophy. Same thing goes for powerlifting. Even with the principle of specificity, if you want to become strong in the 1-5 rep range, then use that rep range. It doesn’t mean you can’t add higher ranges to your training protocol. It all comes down to how you want to manage your volume.
I know in the beginning of my training career, I became obsessed with professional bodybuilder splits, and only trained in the 10-12 rep range. I put all my eggs on that rep range and didn’t care what anyone else said to me… because I was 17 and knew everything. Sound familiar?
2. Comparing yourself to others
I think this is highly overlooked and potentially psychologically detrimental to trainee’s mental health. We all know keeping track of your lifting progression (i.e., pictures, bodyweight, progressive overload, and many other variables) can be vital to your success. Problems often arise when we become too obsessive.
The most important aspect of your training is your own progression – not the other person on Instagram, not your shredded cousin, not even your biggest idol. It’s about you vs. you. This is way easier said than done. And I can tell you from experience, this comparison really hurt me psychologically. A lot of us don’t know how to handle the feelings of being uncomfortable or vulnerable. It’s easier to get down on yourself and your progress when your idol is absolutely shredded and his Instagram only contains their highlight reel.
It’s okay to be in the process, and it’s okay to not be completely shredded all the time. The fitness industry tends to be a brewing ground for obsessive thoughts: “Am I shredded enough? What if I go over my daily calories by 13 calories? What if I walked extra today?” and the list goes on. Happiness comes from within no matter how cliché that may sound. Once you start obsessing and comparing yourself to others, you’re potentially setting yourself up for a lifetime of inner battles.
3. Following the workout splits of your favorite bodybuilder or idol.
I touched on this earlier, but now I want to dive deeper. I tend to see this more in beginners than intermediate and advanced lifters because of the lack of experience. When you’re first starting out and you see Jim Wendler’s Arnold Routine, it’s easy to say, “Wow, look at him! If I workout like that I will look like that in no time!” Listen, we’ve all been there and that’s okay.
Learning through trial and error is vital for long-lasting success. It’s highly unrealistic to think you’re going to start training and immediately have everything figured out. What most people don’t take into account is their training experience, nutrition, supplement dosage (anabolic or not), and more.
I must have followed every single musculardevelopment.com and T-Nation training routine thinking the next program was the perfect one for me. Your workout routine should be catered towards your goals, experience level, and what you enjoy doing. A beginner would not train like an advanced trainee, and would certainly not need the volume demand and higher RPE criteria for sustained muscle growth. It’s usually context-dependent.
4. Learning from the wrong people
This one can be particularly frustrating. We all know sex sells, let’s be real here.
It’s a lot more satisfying to follow what “The Rock” says than what a small town PhD has observed throughout the literature. Does this mean the Rock is wrong all the time? Of course not. Does this mean because someone has a PhD; his or her word is gospel? Absolutely not.
Even the smartest researcher can be wrong from time to time. What I am getting at is this: be open minded, slightly skeptical, and hold a stance from an unbiased perspective at all times. Okay, maybe that’s a little much, but you see where I am going with this. Just because I have a doctorate degree doesn’t mean I know everything about chiropractic. Most people who pretend to know everything or use their degree for moral superiority have already lost their unbiased perspective.
When I was younger, I thought just because someone was Mr. Olympia they had to know it all. I think we have all been there at some point. Just because someone has amazing marketing skills, a huge following, or is physically attractive and can sell, it doesn’t mean his or her information is best for you.
As Gary Vee, the entrepreneur, says, “this is one big game of self-awareness”. I am a big believer of learning in all situations, whether it’s my training or career, you can always learn something from someone, even if it’s what not to do.
5. Patience – Potentially the most important point to me.
Whether you’re trying to build muscle, lose fat, gain strength, or whatever else, these goals take time, consistency, and most importantly, patience. Whether it’s the media, your gym bro, or even a scientist at times, everybody is trying to get quick results. I can tell you from first hand experience that I have struggled in this department my whole life. For a long time, I couldn’t stick to one program in the gym. I would get down on myself when I didn’t see progress immediately.
If your goal is instant gratification, you’ll most likely end up disappointed. No matter what you hear, building muscle takes time.
There is currently a new paper that’s brought a lot of its attention to itself. They compared people who took anabolic steroids and didn’t train vs. people who took a placebo and trained. The authors stated that the group who took anabolic steroids without training gained an average of 7 lbs. of muscle compared to the placebo gaining 4 lbs. of muscle. It’s a horrible study.
Many individuals will look at that study and think, “Wow, they gained 7 lbs. of muscle by only taking steroids!” when in fact they did not gain 7 pounds of muscle. There was nothing in the article that gave proof of the 7lbs being muscle – this was just a claim from the authors.
I would be surprised if 1 pound of that was lean body mass. To gain 7lbs of lean tissue mass takes a long time. If you think your patience is a problem in achieving your goals, this might be something you need to work on.
6. Relying too heavily on research
Research in fitness is something that has exploded within the last decade. One thing we have to remember is research is suggestive at best.
A lot of people look at research and interpret results as scientific fact. An example being that you should only utilize 60 second breaks for the most metabolic stress, when in reality, mechanical tension is shown to be the number one driver of hypertrophy.
Personally this has been extremely detrimental to my own progress. As someone who is a member of multiple journals, I find so much conflicting evidence. Every week it seems like a new study is released that contradicts previous evidence. I would subconsciously change my routine regularly because I was trying to stay up to date with current literature. This was maddening.
Now, this isn’t to say research isn’t extremely important for furthering our knowledge in fitness, because it is. I see problems arise when people only look at one aspect of the evidence based triad. The evidence-based triad consists of empirical data, anecdotal experience and patient preference.
I tend to see this a lot within a small group of PhD’s. They seem to have forgotten the other prongs: anecdotal experience and patient/client preference. A researcher might look at something from purely an empirical data standpoint and completely forget about patient preference. This is just an example, not an absolute.
I believe there are a few things we should be careful of. If research is the basis of your training and you forget about how you actually enjoy training, it might be time for a change of thought.
7. Worrying too much about the 5% instead of the 95%
What do I mean by this? An example would be worrying about how hard you’re supinating your wrist throughout a bicep curl. Or are you slightly flexing your hip at the peak concentric during a leg extension? If you walked a little more than usual today, should you bring your daily calorie intake up by 30 kcal?
This list can go on forever. I am not saying these little details are not important, because they can be. But, I do think I think if you’re sacrificing the bigger picture for the small details, you’re potentially decreasing your rate of progression. I see a lot of people not understanding the basic principles of progressive overload, calorie deficit vs. surplus, reverse dieting, training frequency, and other broad topics, but then worry about the details I mentioned above. Man have I been in this position before.
I used to worry about if my scapula were perfectly retracted and depressed during a bench press, if my daily macros were perfect, if I was burning any extra calories walking the dog…it was never ending. This type of thinking became so obsessive I actually developed OCD from it, but that’s for another discussion.
I have friends who ask me the smallest details possible, but don’t know how many calories are in a gram of protein, carbs, fat, or alcohol. I am not saying wanting to learn the details is necessarily bad. What I am saying is this: if you’re too caught up in how to gain 0.5 pounds of lean body mass, but you can’t stick with one program for 12 weeks, you might need to rethink your approach.
Becoming familiar with general concepts can go along way. For example, If you don’t understand calories in vs. calories out how could you possibly reach your nutritional goals?
8. Only training for the pump
This was popularized by Arnold is the movie “Pumping Iron” and never lost its touch.
What is the pump? The pump is laymen’s term for metabolic stress. Metabolic stress is one of the three contributing factors to hypertrophy. They are mechanical tension, muscle damage and metabolic stress.
Don’t get me wrong, one of the best byproducts of training is the pump. We’re all secretly addicted to the skin exploding feeling we get from this, don’t lie to yourself.
But, over the years, the pump has gotten way too much credibility. Research pretty much agrees that mechanical tension is the most important factor in hypertrophy. I believe Brad Schoenfeld has mentioned this before. If you don’t know who Brad is, he is basically the number one hypertrophy researcher on earth.
Muscle damage is also important, but the literature shows going to the gym with the goal of destroying yourself might not be as beneficial as people think.
On top of that, DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness) is not a guaranteed predictor of a solid workout. It’s just another byproduct of training.
From experience, I fell down this trap quite heavily in the beginning stages of my training career. I thought I needed to get a sick pump, never taking any other training factors into consideration. This decreased my progressive overload and my strength was pitiful. I understand strength isn’t important to everyone.
Hopefully, you can relate to some of these points. I am not against the pump. If that’s what you take away from this, that’s not my intention.
My intention is to spread information on the proper balance of hypertrophy, or building strength. There is nothing inherently wrong with going to the gym solely for the pump, but I do believe you’re leaving a lot on the table.
I can only speak for myself in this situation, but I rarely think about the pump anymore. Some days my pump is more satisfying than others, such as my hypertrophy dominate days.
Days like my upper body power days don’t leave me as pumped and that’s okay. That being said, if you enjoy solely lifting for the pump then go for it! It might not be the most optimal way to train, but if you enjoy it, then who cares.
9. Thinking certain diets create better fat loss
This was a huge pet peeve of mine, and I would be lying if I said this doesn’t still bother me. I had to come to terms with people wanting to do what they want and believe in what they want. If your goal is to change someone’s mind, you’re in for a rude awakening. The only thing you can do is provide your thoughts, evidence based or not, and see if they want to listen.
Social media is a hot spot for this type of cultish behavior. I don’t mean to mock, but it can come across in this manner. We all know what I am talking about.
People define their whole existence based off the way they eat. “I am Keto!” and everything they post is related to how much healthier they are and how good they feel.
It’s not only Keto, you see this with the carnivore diet, Atkins, blood type diet, intermittent fasting (more of an eating pattern than diet itself), flexible dieting, and more. There are hundreds of diets out there. MASS research review has done a solid job, in my opinion, of stating the number one literature-backed aspect of dieting.
I’ll sum it up for you: whatever diet you can adhere to the best is what’s best for you.
It doesn’t matter which diet you choose. What matters is if you can stick to it.
Evidence shows people who drastically cut entire food groups out of their diet increase their chance of failure. We also know eating every 2-3 hours doesn’t change your metabolic rate and increase fat loss. However, we do know stimulating protein synthesis every 3-4 waking hours is slightly more beneficial for retaining and building muscle.
Remember, protein is not just important for building muscle; it has other benefits as well (hormone production, cartilage, bone, blood, etc.).
I definitely succumbed to eating fads when I first started training. I thought you needed to eat “clean” to get shredded. I limited myself to 4-5 different foods and it drove absolutely crazy.
Listen, if you enjoy eating the same foods day after day then go for it. You hear different guidelines for quality of food consumption. I usually stick in the 75/25 range, whole foods to calorie dense foods. Some would say that’s too much calorie dense foods and that’s okay. I enjoy it and I am also aware it might not be as optimal from a nutritious standpoint.
There is no evidence to support that one or two Pop Tarts will kill you, but this is how we think. We label food groups as “bad” or “good” and set ourselves up for potential psychological disaster. Remember, the number one factor of your body weight is the amount of calories you’re eating.
If you want to lose weight, a calorie deficit is necessary. If you want to gain weight, a calorie surplus is needed. I am not going to go into the details and possibilities during reverse dieting because that could be a post all by itself.
I suggest buying and reading Jeff Nippard’s and Chris Barakat’s new e-book on reverse dieting (and no, I am not being endorsed by either of them… unfortunately). The major take away is this. Experiment with different eating patterns. Figure out which one you adhere to the best, & that’s probably the one for you!
10. What is Chiropractic? (An evidence based review)
Man, chiropractic is really misunderstood by the public. To start I am a doctor. And yes, I know – some of you will say you’re not a “real” doctor and that’s okay. Everyone has their place in the health care system, and I personally think that saying that medical doctors are the only “real” doctors is arrogant and disrespectful to other doctoral programs (D.P.T, D.C, PhD, DDS, Pharm D.)
So what is the truth when it comes to chiropractic?
Let’s start with some of the general misconceptions surrounding the profession.
Chiropractic is not a cure for all disease. Chiropractic is not any better than traditional medicine. Chiropractic is not as dangerous as the public makes it out to be. And you certainly don’t need to see a chiropractor 2-3 times a week for the rest of your life.
There are definitely some chiropractors out there that say and believe these things, but this isn’t how I choose to practice, and there are reasons for that. I don’t like fear mongering my patients, and although research isn’t everything, I do try to be as evidence-informed as possible. There is nothing more disheartening than fear mongering your patients.
I wanted to talk about the safety of neck (cervical) manipulation. There was recently a study conducted on 1.6 million Medicare beneficiaries. This group already has a higher atherosclerosis (arterial plaque) presentation than any other age group (Medicare is age 65 and over for those who are unaware).
What they found was this: there was no correlation with vertebral artery dissection leading to a stroke when a patient received a neck manipulation by a trained chiropractor.
You have the same chance of having a stroke while seeing your primary medical doctor without them touching you. My malpractice insurance is $570 for my first year in practice. If people were regularly stroking out, not only would our profession be destroyed, my premium would sky rocket.
To give you a comparison a general internist M.D can pay between 4 and 12 thousand.
Now what is chiropractic good for? Some of the potential benefits of receiving an adjustment are gate theory, afferent stimulation to the nervous system, joint mobility, mechanoreceptor stimulation and more. So what the heck did I just say?
The impulse caused by the adjustment blocks pain receptors. Chiropractic is not meant to replace other forms of health care. We have a shortage of 7 plus million health care workers worldwide right now, according to the WHO.
Our program consists of everything ranging from extensive anatomy, physiology, neurology, pathology, diagnostic criteria and more. Since chiropractors have a diverse range in their curriculum, we are able to give advice on lifestyle modifications such as sleep, exercise, and nutrition.
Our schooling is very similar to medical school, with the main difference being that they go to residency when we can start into practice. Residency is a whole other beast within itself, and I give credit to anyone who puts themselves through the rigorous hours of residency.
So why does our education need to be so similar to the medical school curriculum? One major reason is because we need to know when to refer. Do you know the amount of pathologies that can cause back pain? They can range from things as ominous as cancer to as benign as a muscle spasm.
There are numerous pathologies that have the potential to show up in our office. This is why we are heavily trained in diagnostic skills. Many of these pathologies we can’t treat directly, but we better know where to send them. This is one of the biggest misconceptions within our profession.
For example, I work in a multidisciplinary clinic consisting of Chiropractors, Medical Doctors, Physical therapists, Massage therapists and more.
I wanted to end with a big thanks to all of Chris’s readers and Chris himself. I hope I provided some insight on the benefits and negatives relating to my training experience. Maybe you can relate and maybe you can’t. Hopefully my mini summary on chiropractic gave readers an evidence based look into what we can and cannot do. If you’re uncomfortable seeing a chiropractor that’s completely fine! There are plenty of other health care professionals that can assist you.
Disclaimer: This is not intended to be taken as medical advice, always consult your primary physician.
Thanks for reading!